If there’s one thing in life I’d say I regret it would be that I waited to start making games. I knew at age 8 that I wanted to become a programmer so that I can make games, but it meant that I only really started making games about 8 years later when I had a class where I was able to learn how to program. If I can go back to my younger self now and give him/me a few tips this would probably be it.
Creating is the most important thing
This is something I can’t stress enough. We all know that if you’re at all trying to do something creative waiting for the time when you might have the skills to do so won’t help with acquiring the skills. Now I’ll be honest I didn’t classify myself as a very traditional creative person. To this day I struggle to visualise stuff when I’m reading a book and a lot of my visual creations are lending a WHOLE lot of inspiration from the work of others. I’ve come to realise that being creative doesn’t always mean being able to draw or write music. My creative process is different from most because my imagination doesn’t quite go to visual/audio representations, but rather something relative abstract that’s a weird mix of visual concepts my mind had come to recognise and it’s very much still rooted in the logical side of my brain.
It’s ultimately what has made me a very good developer from a technical point of view and I’ve only recently started leveraging this for more game development related tasks. I’ve sort of found my niche with what I like to create and it’s not exactly what I had envisioned when I was young, but it’s a whole lot more satisfying than being frustrated over what I’m doing day-to-day. The main point though is I had to start applying a more creative mindset to flex the muscle and become a bit more comfortable with the more artsy things I struggle with. I truly believe if I had done this from a much younger age I would’ve been much better off now, but the matter of fact is that I can only look forward now.
Programming is not the only thing in game development
This is something I still struggle with today, but I had used it as an excuse for about 15 years after I had decided I want to be able to make games. To give some context I was turned 8 in 2001. My cousin is my senior by 9 years so he was in high school at that time and he had learned enough about programming to start making games. The majority of games I had been playing at the time was also stuff that originated from these programming gods that would do everything, but the important part in my mind was that they were programmers first and foremost. This lead me to believe that to start making games I should be a programmer.
Today I’ve realised that game development consists of so many different disciplines and programming is a mere slice of the bigger picture. Design, music, sound, art and programming is just a few of the many I can quickly list here. Even some of those can be split into various other sub-disciplines and while programming might be the glue that holds everything together, it’s definitely not the ONLY way to take part in making games. I had waited for 8 years so that I can take a class at high school on programming, time that could’ve been much better spent being creative in other ways. Now I’ll add that I did pursue some creative endeavours. A list of what I did would be as follows:
- Directed, starred and/or edited various short films with my brother and cousins
- Designed 2 boardgames
- Drew a few pages of a Yu-Gi-Oh! esque comic book
My memory of it is very hazy as it’s just not something I spent too much time on. I was a major couch potato and I spent a LOT of time playing games, but I wish I would’ve rather spent the time doing more stuff like recording sound effects, voice-overs, designing more boardgames or spending more time drawing. I really enjoyed doing these things, but somehow I still had it in the back of my mind that it wouldn’t be useful to work on those skills if I want to make games one day.
Games don’t just consist of video games
I mentioned in the previous section I had designed 2 boardgames. Both of these games I had tried playing with my brother only once and I didn’t try to refine the games afterwards, but I didn’t realise back then it meant I was flexing my game design muscle. I was so caught up with thinking making video games is so much different to designing a boardgame that I just never really fully pursued it. The main reason I bring this up as a point is to also address something related to me not putting in the effort to learn how to program earlier.
I’d grown up in a household where my parents were barely computer literate. To this day I’m still the tech support person for my family and it’ll very likely continue in this way for the foreseeable future. We also lived in a very rural area where the only internet access we would be able to get was dail-up. This was way too expensive at the time and it ultimately meant I didn’t have too many resources to use so that I could learn how to program. The thing is that this ties into the whole “programming isn’t the only thing” from the previous point I made. I had told myself that because I don’t have access to programming resources, be it books, the internet or adults who can teach me more I was stuck believing I should wait until high school.
If I had realised making boardgames would be valuable to me now it could’ve enabled me to be a much better designer rather than wanting to still relegate design responsibilities to others and just providing input. Making games back then wouldn’t have been the same as I can do now, but following through with making more stuff that isn’t video games would’ve helped me in the long run.
Use the stuff you do have access to
All that said it wasn’t that I was totally without access to stuff I could make games with. I was lucky enough during high school that my mom bought me a subscription to PC Format which included a disk with a treasure trove full of goodies, some of which were game development tools. There was even a few articles showing how to use Microsoft XNA to make games. I followed along with the XNA-tutorial series, but I never really experimented with any of the other game development tools that came with some of the issues. It’s something that I should’ve used, because now I realise I shouldn’t be spending time building engines. I should rather focus on making games and even if these things were limited it would’ve still provided some basis to use and a platform to make something rather than just waiting until I know “enough” about programming.
The key thing is that there are loads of tools out there. These days people really get caught up on Unity vs Unreal vs Godot vs whatever-the-hell-other-big-engines-are-out-there. To me the option shouldn’t be limited to just these. Experiment with smaller more focused tools, maybe there’ll be something you like about them. They’ll most definitely have their own limitations, but having those are a good thing as a designer and it can teach you quite a lot. I should’ve played around a whole lot more, not just to learn as a designer, but also to identify what tools are nice to use. This can help a lot if you want to build tools for an engine like Unity or Unreal, because ultimately if you do have some level of success with a game prototype you’ll quickly find it does help building small tools to streamline your content creation process.
These tips are very likely suited more to my situation back then, but I still feel some of the concepts would be valuable to others. I’m often asked by friends and colleagues about making games themselves. These tips are usually the things I give them first and having this post means now I have a link to just share with them. I hope you did find this useful and hope I could expand these a bit in the future as well.